LGBTQ protections draw fire in Montevallo

 

By NANCY WILSTACH / Special to the Reporter

MONTEVALLO – Opponents of a proposed non-discrimination ordinance made up most of the dozen people attending the initial meeting of a three-member Montevallo City Council committee at City Hall on the night of Oct. 16.

The proposal to outlaw discrimination adds LGBTQ persons to already-protected classes (such as age, color, religion and national origin) in areas of employment, housing and services. It has been under consideration for more than a year. Mayor Hollie Cost named Councilman Jason Peterson as chairman, with Councilmen Rusty Nix and Matt Walker, to try to unclog the impasse.

However, the latest four-page version still drew objections from clergymen and others.

“We don’t have a skin problem or a gender problem,” said the Rev. Todd Burr, pastor of Dogwood Grove Baptist Church. “We have a sin problem.”

Those who think the ordinance “would protect their friends from being fired for being gay or lesbian” are wrong, Burr said. In Alabama a person can be fired without being told why, he said.

“Some biological males,” the Rev. Scott Fowler said, might use the ordinance to “violate the privacy of others.” Fowler said that peeping toms and sexual predators could use such an ordinance to endanger women and children. Fowler is pastor of Spring Creek Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Jenny Wheeler, an occupational therapist, questioned the advisability of “equal access to public restrooms. An evil individual might use that privilege to do harm to someone without the physical or mental capacity to remove themselves.”

The hand-wringing may be much ado about nothing.

Walker predicted that the Alabama Legislature will contravene a city’s right to legislate non-discrimination.

“I am curious how the city of Birmingham’s ordinance will play out,” Walker said. “I have heard rumblings that there will be a response from the Alabama Legislature this spring.”

That would reflect the Legislature’s reaction to Birmingham’s effort to establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage in the city. On the heels of that Birmingham ordinance, the Legislature passed a prohibition against cities’ setting a minimum wage.

Birmingham adopted a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBTQ persons in September.

During the committee discussion, Nix said that he wanted the gender identity definition to read “sex at birth or changed surgically.”

Walker said he was troubled by the definition of an “employer” as “a person who employs one or more.”

That could be applied to someone hiring a part-time nanny, he said.

Peterson said that he has read non-discrimination ordinances from cities across the country, “and this is almost word-for-word the same.”

Other speakers asked where the burden of proof lay for discrimination and said that the ordinance assesses no maximum penalty. Walker and Nix both expressed reservations about a city Human Rights Commission and its powers.

City Clerk Herman Lehman offered to set up a future meeting of the committee with the city judge, the city prosecutor and the police chief. The councilmen readily accepted that option.